Report hearing of seventh day of trial Friday February 21, 2020
The Women’s Justice Network case against Kat Armstrong recommenced today at 9:30am presided over by Her Honour, Magistrate Carolyn Huntsman. The defence team is Peter O’Brien and Elliot Rowe.
The whole day was spent with the Police Prosecutor, Ms Rochester, cross examining Kat about the set up and ongoing operations and finances of the Women in Prison Advocacy Network (WIPAN), now known as Women’s Justice Network (WJN).
Photo of WJN CEO Gloria Larman - attended every day of trial
Evidence was given about an award received by Ms Armstrong from the Vodafone Foundation. Kat applied in 2013 to the Vodafone Foundation for the World of Difference grant, consisting of $85,000. Kat was successful and it was paid directly to the Women’s Justice Network. Magistrate Huntsman stated that this questioning was ‘not relevant to the legal claim of right’ and was therefore inadmissible.
Ms Armstrong did not record loan liabilities on the WIPAN accounts. Due to the informal procedures adopted at the inception of WIPAN between 2007 and 2011, there was no official documentation in relation to the loan funding of the organisation. As shown by Mr O’Brien, Ms Armstrong applied and received two personal loans comprising of fifty-five and thirty-three thousand dollars respectively in 2010 from a bank and invested the majority of these funds to ensure the continued operations of the Women’s Justice Network.
This was in addition to the three hundred and twenty thousand dollar loan received from Breakout Media Communication from 2008 to 2011. In response to these facts, Ms Armstrong insisted that due to the infancy of the WIPAN, the loans were never officially recorded, due to the informal relationship. It was of Ms Armstrong’s opinion that it was a “family relationship” between WIPAN and JA/BO and the contributions by Breakout was common knowledge among the board members at the time, consistently repeating, ‘that’s just the way it was back then’.
Of particular note, this was during a time where Ms Armstrong was continually lobbying to government organisations in order to receive public funding. She admitted that whilst this may have not have been the best way of keeping records but that it was a small, unfunded, ngo, not based on corporate contracts. Her belief was that she would not be successful in securing funding from government and it didn’t need too much formality.
In relation to the loans made by Breakout, her firm understanding was that the sum would be paid back ‘if and when’ the organisation ever could or would get secured funding. This approach from the prosecution was that the money received from Breakout was a gift for the development of WIPAN, and therefore not categorised as a loan liability.
Significantly, it was noted by the prosecution that a one-hundred thousand-dollar grant was received from the Office of Women in 2009. When asked why this sum was not used to pay back the Breakout loan, Ms Armstrong insisted that this grant was applied for and had to be spent for a particular mentoring project and could not be used to pay back the loan to Breakout.
Nevertheless, the sums of money paid by Breakout to WIPAN and paid from Kat personally to WIPAN, were never recorded in written contracts because of the informal environment of their inception and the commitment Kat had to ensuring WIPAN’s continued operations and success.
Position as Unpaid CEO
A major topic of discussion was the array of unpaid roles Ms Armstrong undertook in the first seven years of WIPAN.
The prosecutor attempted to argue that Ms Armstrong’s agreement with the board in relation to the payment was not retrospective. However, it was clear that Kat always maintained the expectation to be paid back for all work, if and when WIPAN secured recurrent funds. She had consistently prioritised the continuance of WIPAN regardless of the personal financial strain to herself.
Ms Armstrong worked full time, up to 70 hours a week and was unpaid between 2011-2017 while other board members had external income from their full-time employment. The multiple roles Kat took during this time included full-time CEO, the admin/accounts coordinator, the treasurer, the secretary, mentoring coordinator and a mentor.
Although she recorded no formal documentation about her workloads, the board members, other staff and networks saw the immense volume of work she completed during her 10 year period of running WIPAN.
After lunch the prosecutor continued her cross-examination of Kat Armstrong. The prosecutor asked why she initially intended to donate a $10k car in 2017 to WJN but did not follow through with this. Kat explained that given her trust of the board had significantly reduced by this time, and that she had already put so much of her personal finances and time into the organisation she believed that it was long overdue for WJN to repay her.
The prosecutor accused Kat of making up her legal right of claim after being reported by the current WJN Board to the NSW Police in December 2018. Kat denied that and said that she had submitted a letter of legal demand for monies that were owed to Kat from WIPAN in September 2018. Also Kat’s mentor had made representations in emails to the current WIPAN board in April 2018, about monies owed to Kat and to Breakout.
The Prosecutor submitted and questioned Kat on an email thread between Kat and other board members in March 2017 where Kat stated that she refused payment for the next few weeks of work. Magistrate looked over the thread and said that she felt that Kat was doing the work voluntarily. However Peter O’Brien raised the final part of the email where the current Vice President, Nicki Petrou, agreed that after informal discussions had been with Kat and other board members, Kat was then open to the proposals put by the board.
The prosecutor stated that the text message between Miss Brennan and Armstrong in December 2017, the language Kat used was very aggressive and profane. She had accused Brennan of being a “putrid dog” with implications that she was gutless for not coming to Kat first when she had made a returned transaction, a donation of $30K made to Kat’s work by her former partner.
The prosecutor stated that this language was harassment. Kat stated that this language was normal between the two and regular language used between women who had lived experience of prison similar to the women clientele of WIPAN.
The Magistrate adjourned the proceedings to Friday 1 May 2020, confirming that there were three more witnesses to give evidence for the defence case.
Peter O’Brien said he would provide written submissions for the defence. what the evidence meant and that the magistrate’s decision was to be made on that last day.